How to practice
All of the books I’ve referenced say to practice slowly at first and increase speed only when you’ve perfected an exercise at the tempo in which you’re working. Bass Guitar Secrets (BGS) even adds, “There’s a saying that practice makes perfect. Well that’s NOT entirely true. If you practice the wrong thing you’ll become perfect alright… But perfectly WRONG! The ONLY way, the best way and the most ‘discipline-requiring’ way to perfect perfection is to practice SLOWLY… A heck of A LOT slower than you CAN go.”
My books also recommend practicing exercises with a metronome, to help develop a good sense of time. Interestingly, Jeff Berlin’s video has a chapter called “Metronomes” in which Jeff emphatically contests this wisdom. His claim is that it puts the time before the music and that it artificially alters the bassist’s sense of time. He even goes into a few on-the-spot tests with his cameraman to help prove his point and discusses ideas such as how Latin musicians (from South & Central America) generally don’t learn with metronomes and have a strong sense of time.
I find it interesting because Jeff talks about knowing music before its played (like knowing what a song is supposed to sound like) and hints at the idea that some grooves are cultural in nature, which probably has merit if you consider Latin, Chinese or Indian music and compare it to Western music. I wonder if Carl Jung is floating about somewhere in the unconscious, nodding to this?
Here is an interesting idea from BGS about practicing that I’m trying to follow:
Practice both with and without the thumb on the back of the neck.
I find practicing without my thumb behind the neck really hard, and I don’t do it as much as recommended. I am, however, using it as an excuse when my wife tells me to lose weight, as having a gut gives my fingers something to press the bass against when practicing sans-thumb. Its probably bad, but I put it off and tell myself that I’ll focus more on it later.
BGS says that if you play using only the fretting fingers, you’ll eventually be able to include the thumb again in more of a guide/support role instead of using it like a vice. Ideally, finger-strength will become all that you need to play notes and you’ll experience a reduction of cramping in the fretting hand. I was thinking about this and it seems like a lot of insane players like Stu Hamm (Joe Satriani, Steve Vai) and Jeff Hughell (Brain Drill) use this technique (or a variation of it) when they’re tapping strings to make notes, instead of the usual striking and fretting of strings. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:
I’ll probably delve more into practice again later, but its late now and I work 6 days a week.